En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
4 ratings

Monday - March 21, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Live Oak Suckers
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson


Hello, my neighbor cleared away their St. Augustine grass for mulch and plantings. Under a huge, beautiful Live Oak tree they placed a wide bed of medium gravel, almost out to the drip line. It looked wonderful for a few weeks, until the little oak suckers started reaching for the sky. They are now almost as dense as a lawn, and my neighbors don't know quite what to do about it. Do you have any suggestions?


Aha! Your neighbor has just created the perfect environment for those little oak suckers to emerge.  This is a favorite question asked by Central Texas homeowners.  I like the answer that the A&M Horticulture website had about this. 

  I quote in part:  “LEARN TO LOVE THEM because the more you cut the more they multiply. Some homeowners keep them trimmed at a certain height and interplant ground cover -- the ground cover conceals the oak sprout since the foliage is similar. We DO NOT recommend a herbicide application to sprouts since the sprouts are connected directly to the Mother tree and could cause damage. Roundup herbicide will do little more than defoliate the sprouts and could damage the tree to which they are attached. Learn to co-exist; they can become one of the most drought-tolerant ground covers available.”

Multiple previous answers by Mr Smarty Plants tend to pretty much agree with this; I will reference those answers in the summary that follows. 

 They lean towards cutting the suckers regularly, and even recommend sharpshooters and garden loppers as the tools of choice.   Be careful though, as this exposes the tree to Oak Wilt, so trimming these between February and June is highly discouraged.

  From my own experience, I can echo the advice given above and add to it a little bit.  We have two lovely Live Oaks in our front yard.  We opened the area under them when we converted the yard to a native garden.  Those suckers immediately started coming up and we had a large area where they were pretty thick.   I would mow and weed-whack them for normal control, then once or twice a year I’d dig as much as possible and cut some of the larger roots with loppers or shears.   Later I graduated to using a hedge trimmer under the soil [REPEAT:  Do not cut the Oak from February to June]

  Lately, we have converted from this to a covered situation similar to that recommended in this comment.  We laid down multiple layers of newspaper, covered by heavy cardboard, covered by 4-6” of mulch.  Using cardboard and paper allows some water to seep through, unlike the pond cover suggestion.  You should cover everything up to maybe 6” from the tree trunk.  We are now about 6 months into this and none have made it up yet.  I’m very hopeful, keep your fingers crossed for us.  Still, as they said in Jurassic Park:  “Life will find a way”.


More Trees Questions

Plants for a moist, wooded area in North Carolina
December 06, 2014 - I am looking to plant some native flowers in a wooded area in Surry County NC. The chosen location is fully shaded beside a creek. The water table typically sets about 2 feet below the surface of th...
view the full question and answer

Pros and cons of live oak leaves left on ground in Dripping Springs TX
February 20, 2013 - What are the pros or cons of leaving live oak leaves on the ground around trees or bushes?
view the full question and answer

Thorny plant for fenceline security
December 23, 2009 - What kind of thorny plant or vine would you suggest to place along a fence for security purposes
view the full question and answer

Plant spacing of Cenizo in Bulverde TX
November 14, 2009 - How far apart should Texas sage be planted?
view the full question and answer

Need suggestion for a tree with a tap root in Oklahoma City, OK.
October 27, 2012 - I would like to know the best tree to plant in my area that does well. Would like a tap root tree and also a tree that will not mess with my septic lines. Thank you
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center